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Tower Site Selection

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How are locations for towers selected? Why do they appear to pop up everywhere?

Cellular tower locations are the result of an engineering field called Radio Frequency Engineering or RF, for short. RF engineers at the various wireless companies such as Cingular, Nextel, Verizon, Sprint, and T-Mobile work closely with their marketing departments to determine areas where the placement of a new tower will accomplish one (or more) of three goals:

  • Expansion: The tower site provides coverage over areas that do not currently have coverage.
  • Capacity: The tower site provides additional capacity for the carrier to handle more calls in areas where existing towers are overloaded.
  • Quality: The tower fills in a hole or an area where customer calls are frequently dropped or call service is poor.

In either case, the tower must serve a specific purpose. The majority of the times, that purpose is to increase the number of minutes that people talk or receive/send data on their phones. The industry refers to this as “Minutes of Use” or MOUs. The main way of increasing MOUs is by placing cell towers or sites in locations that have high daytime working populations. Most carriers have wireless plans that provide cheap or free “off time” rates, so the emphasis is daytime calling minutes which are typically the most expensive

As you can presume, daytime rates are highest in areas where people either travel a lot or where they work. Urban and suburban areas have the highest concentration of cellular sites and towers. Please see the Types of Cellular Sites webpage for more information. To provide coverage for those people traveling between these particular urban/suburban areas, highways, state roads, and higher traffic local roads are covered by towers as well. Placement of towers at strategic intersections of major roads is often preferred.

Lately, carriers have been adding cell sites in rural areas as well in an attempt to provide ubiquitous coverage (an unobtainable goal for at least 5 years). However, before you assume that carriers will be knocking on your door for a tower, they still follow good siting practices. Sites must be near a major roadway. Rarely do wireless carriers build towers in the middle of nowhere. Cellular sites must meet one or more of the three goals listed above. Building a tower to cover rural farmland where no people live does not serve any of these goals.

The marketing departments of the wireless carriers are constantly reviewing potential and uncovered areas to determine where to place new towers. Because carriers have capital budgets, the marketing departments and RF engineering departments work together to prioritize those sites that they believe will provide the most benefit to the company in terms of MOUs or quality of service.

If you are interested in learning how these general locations become actual towers or antenna sites, please see the following article:

How Specific Cell Tower Sites Are Chosen..

If you are interested in learning how to evaluate your own property for a cell tower and how to market your location to wireless carriers, please see the following article:

How to Market your Land for a potential Cell Tower Lease

If you are interested in finding out how you might bring cellular service to your area, please see the following page:

How to Bring Wireless Service to your Area